A Victory for the Art of War

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), December 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

A Victory for the Art of War


Byline: MARK HUDSON

Oil Paintings In Public Ownership In The ImperialWarMuseum The Public Catalogue Foundation [pounds sterling]35 hardback, [pounds sterling]20 softback

It will come as a surprise to some that the Imperial War Museum has an art collection at all. Who needs daubing on canvas when bullets are flying and bombs falling?

Yet since the First World War, Britain has had a policy of paying artists to record our military struggles - from the Somme to presentday Iraq - and this poignant and engrossing book is a testament to what an inspired and farsighted policy this has been.

One of an ongoing series cataloguing every publicly owned painting in Britain, this book gives you the whole of the Imperial War Museum's collection - and I mean every single painting - in one easily perusable volume.

And if the pictures are on the small side, barely 5cm by 6cm, then the sheer concentration and variety of the images offers a vision of men and women at war that will move even the least military-minded of readers.

As with the bulk of the museum's exhibits, the concentration is on the two great 20th Century conflagrationsand while there are a handful of images from 'the other side' - an official portrait of Hitler and a Japanese painting celebrating the sinking of a British warship - the vast majority of paintings emerged from the official war artists programme, painted by men and women who served in a quasi-military capacity and knew at first hand the terrors, petty discomforts and mind-numbing tedium of war. …

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